2006 Haru Basho
Roundtable Report | Click here for pre-basho report
Let's get the whole yaocho thing out of the way first. I'm sorry if I used my blog to force feed a little reality to you idealists who think if you want really badly for something not to be true--in this case the possibility of yaocho--that it just doesn't happen. You know, that little growth on your skin...that unpaid parking ticket from a couple years ago...those taxes you forgot to pay. Just ignore them and they'll go away right?
Here's the bottom line: Yaocho does happen. The Sumo Association in no way encourages it or has a hand in it. Hon-basho are not scripted. It only takes one rikishi to throw a bout. I think Asashoryu and Hakuho did what they did out of pure respect for Kaio. If a significant yaocho occurs, we will let you know when it happens. Other than that, yaocho are harmless and hardly worth talking about. Let's move on.
Was it just me or did Yokozuna Asashoryu seem a bit vulnerable to you this basho? If you had the feeling that Asashoryu is slipping a bit, it's not that he's finally coming back to the pack; rather, a few of the thoroughbreds are catching up to him. The Yokozuna is still in his prime, but now he's got a few legitimate rikishi to contend with each basho, a scenario that is so healthy for the sport. If you took Hakuho and Kotooshu out of the equation, look how bad the competition is surrounding the Yokozuna. But throw a healthy Hakuho and Kotooshu into the mix, and the Yokozuna's armor begins to crack. I still look for Asashoryu to win at least three yusho a year and probably four, but it's damn good he got that calendar sweep out of the way last year because it won't happen again for him.
There's nothing new to comment on regarding the Yokozuna's sumo. He was in top form throughout and was legitimately beaten by just one rikishi, a future Yokozuna in Hakuho. It says a lot when a guy who practiced just a handful of days prior to the basho and participated in less than 30 bouts total can enter the tournament and take the yusho. And how about that yusho kettei-sen with Hakuho? That was one of the best bouts of sumo this millennium if not thee best. Asashoryu is alive and well and still the master of the house.
Let's move on to Sekiwake Hakuho, who really made a joke out of Ozeki promotion and firmly stated his case for Yokozuna promotion. Hakuho was the best rikishi of this tournament in my opinion. Asashoryu's experience and grit prevailed in that playoff bout, but if you look at the day to day sumo, Hakuho was tops without question. He was never in trouble in his 13 wins (and one of his losses), and he dominated Asashoryu on day 11. 12 of his 13 wins this basho were belt wins, which reminds me so much of how Takanohana used to do things. Hakuho literally smothered the competition this basho, and I think if it weren't for the shenanigans pulled on senshuraku that probably broke his mental focus, a 14-1 Hakuho would have beaten the Yokozuna in the playoff. Let's look back on Hakuho's last year. It was really filled with adversity. First, there was the failure to obtain Ozeki promotion a year ago. Then, it was an ankle injury, which forced him to withdraw from one tournament and struggle in the next few. Then there was Kotooshu ripping the title of "next" away from him. It was a rough year, but I think until the Haru basho last year, everything just came too easy for Hakuho. He needed that year to struggle and fight his way through injuries, think his way through mental setbacks, and cope with disappointments. He strolled into Osaka last year as a cocky 20 year old and was humbled. He returned this year cool as a cat, a more mature rikishi that opened a six-pack of whoopass on everyone else. Two 13-win basho in a row? Dems Yokozuna numbers.
Let's move to the rikishi who was forced to play third fiddle, Ozeki Tochiazuma. Tochiazuma was good this basho but not great. His big moment was the fantastic win over Hakuho, and he also dispatched of guys like Kokkai and Tamanoshima in impressive fashion, but the only time I saw a flash of Yokozuna material was on day 12 in the aforementioned Hakuho bout. That doesn't cut it for me. It's also beyond me how a rikishi who finishes in third place can still be considered a Yokozuna candidate heading into the next basho, but there's no sense in reviewing the politics behind that. As I stated in my day 12 comments, the fire and concentration Tochiazuma showed in his win over Hakuho was lacking the other 14 days. If he even dares to fancy a legitimate chance at eeking out a Yokozuna promotion next basho, he has to light that fire two weeks before the basho starts and keep it burning the entire way. Does he think he can waltz to even a second place finish with Asashoryu, Hakuho, and a healthy Kotooshu? And those are three rikishi he beat this basho! He'll maybe go 1-2 against them in May. Tochi's 12-3 record was inflated in March.
Ozeki Kotooshu really impressed me this basho. Pulling out 9 wins after being unable to even perform butsugari-geiko with a Makushita rikishi two days before the tournament? Let's just hope that right knee heals completely for May because there ain't nothing like a good threesome. It's not really worthwhile to comment on Kotooshu's sumo this basho. Let's just say he survived on his height, his ability, and his stubbornness. I really gave Kotooshu a hard time last September, but he more than earned back my respect this basho.
Continuing in the ailing Ozeki ranks, it looks as if Kaio will be around for at least two more basho. Ideally, I think Kaio hopes to survive until the Kyushu basho where he will call it quits in front of the home town fans. Kaio was maybe fighting at 70% this basho, but it was good to see a crusty old veteran grab that uwate on a few of his opponents and give 'em an old fashioned lesson in power sumo. I knew that Kaio could pull off a few victories if he got a hold of someone's belt, and he did just that against Tochiazuma and Kotomitsuki down the stretch as well as a nifty win over Miyabiyama early on. You look at Kaio's losses and they are all against rikishi who are mostly new to the division and faster than him. You look at his 8 wins, and none of the wins were against anyone that is really known for their speed...er...uh...except maybe Hakuho, but we won't get into that. Still, if Kaio can enter a basho this year having practiced legitimately against Makuuchi rikishi for a handful of days, he can easily reach double-digit wins again. Just pay attention to his pre-basho condition, and you'll know how he'll perform.
And last and certainly least in the Ozeki ranks, Chiyotaikai (yawn) staved off demotion yet again with a 9-6 record. This was so predictable coming into the basho. Skirt sumo, as I now refer to it, earned him a 5-0 start and then there were the two bouts against his hobbled counterparts, Kaio and Kotooshu, to pick up two more wins to get to 7. Chiyotaikai actually had a few good wins, especially one over Ama, but here's why I tend to be so hard on this guy: five pull-down wins his first five days over five Maegashira scrubs who didn't kachi-koshi. Skirt sumo...take your pick on whether skirt is a noun or a verb; both apply. I just don't like when someone struts around like a bad ass as a result of crap sumo. Chiyotaikai's days of impacting a yusho race are long gone.
Returning to the Sekiwake ranks, Kotomitsuki is stuck just below the upper-echelon rikishi and just above the guys with sufficient game to make the sanyaku but not enough game to stay there. Typical 8-7 with all but one win against guys ranked below him and losses to everyone ranked above him (Chiyotaikai was the exception...go figure). If something changes, I'll bother taking up more bandwidth talking about the guy.
Got the theme song from the Good the Bad and the Ugly in your head...that whistle and twangy guitar? Good, because here comes the Sheriff. How about Komusubi Miyabiyama this basho? Actually, that's Sekiwake Miyabiyama to you, pardner. This guy goes 10-5 from the Komusubi rank and they give the Kantosho to M11 Kyokushuzan for 11 wins among one of the weakest banzuke in recent memory regarding the lower Maegashira ranks? That is a travesty. Miyabiyama struggled early on, but a seven day lineup of Yokozuna, Ozeki, Ozeki, Hakuho, Kotomitsuki, Ozeki, Ozeki will tend to do that to you. No matter. Miyabiyama stuck to his six shooters and turned in a top five performance this basho. Excellent sumo from this former Ozeki who put costly daggers in both Kaio's and Tochiazuma's Yokozuna runs in the last 18 months. If those two could have overcome Miyabiyama in their two most recent tsuna-tori basho, they are donning the white rope. Miyabiyama has figured out of late that he can do damage with his tsuppari attack, and that has propelled him back up among the elite. I've loved watching this guy the last few basho.
Miyabi's counterpart, Komusubi Roho, had a less than desirable sanyaku debut. What was that, Roho? If there was a special booby prize given to the rikishi who lost by the biggest variety of techniques, Roho's your guy this basho. Roho's sumo is just too flawed right now for him to become a sanyaku mainstay. I liked how Simon pointed out Roho's penchant for putting his arm down to the clay early on whenever he was thrown. That's a sign of unsound sumo skills and a lack of confidence in his own ability. Then that isami-ashi loss when he had Kotomitsuki filleted on day 4? Lack of concentration. Roho has got to retool his sumo starting with the basics.
I mentioned my disappointment with Kyokushuzan getting the Kantosho over Miyabiyama, but the more I look at the Maegashira ranks, I think to myself, "who else could they have given a special prize too?". Nobody really. The Maegashira ranks had a less than stellar Haru basho with a few bright exceptions.
The biggest bright spot this basho was M2 Ama, who somehow pulled out eight wins from that rank. Incredibly, Ama should find himself ranked at Komusubi come May, something his pesky stable mate M3 Aminishiki has yet to do in his career. Ama punked two Ozeki, one Sekiwake, and one Komusubi. Big wins like that are required for rikishi who want to make that leap into the sanyaku. The key to Ama's success his is tenacity, or will to win. Of course he's got excellent technique, but you've got to have multiple elements in your game to be successful. Both Roho and Kokkai don't have the technique that Ama does, but they have size and strength. If they approached each basho as Ama does, they'd be sanyaku mainstay without question.
Though M3 Aminishiki suffered a make-koshi thanks to a costly 0-5 stretch in week two, I thought he was another bright spot. His day 2 win over Tochiazuma was masterful, and he enjoyed nice wins over Kaio and Roho. Aminishiki made every rikishi who faced him work for the win and that's all you can ask from these guys at this rank.
M5 Kyokutenho finished 11-4, but I hate to jump on his bandwagon because I know he'll turn right around and suck come May. Tenho's victories were mostly over fellow Maegashira rikishi, and his 0-2 mark against Asashoryu and Wakanosato puts his record into better perspective. He was good, but with someone of his ability an 11-4 record is expected from this rank.
M7 Kisenosato had a great basho at 10-5 when you consider this kid's age. The biggest upside to his performance was that he didn't suffer any bad losses. Dejima and Tochinohana are veterans much older than the Kid, and Takekaze, Kyokushuzan, and Kyokutenho all had good basho themselves. He really walloped his peers as he should have, and the reward will be a rank among the jo'i come May. I can't wait to see this kid bring his fearlessness at the Natsu basho and remember his success against Kotooshu.
M8 Kotoshogiku had a quiet 9-6 outing, but that was big for him considering his string of poor basho heading into March. Counterpart Asasekiryu also looked good on paper at 10-5, but both of these dudes need to prove themselves next basho when ranked in the top 3 or 4 of Maegashira...not down here in the safety of the middle ranks.
M11 Wakanosato can't climb up the ranks fast enough after a leg injury sent him down to the brink of the division. When you have guys like Hokutoriki handing out the freebies from the M2 rank, it shows just how badly Wakanosato has been missed. Scratch the Jokester in May and replace him with Wakanosato on your schedule and it makes it so much tougher for the jo'i. Wakanosato's losses to Otsukasa and Tamakasuga by pull down techniques really summarizes this guy's career. He's great, and he's got consistent wins over the best rikishi in the division, but he suffers bone-headed losses that keep and have kept him from the Ozeki rank. Waka's too old, and the fresh blood in the sanyaku is too good now for him to ever fancy the Ozeki rank again. Still, we need him up high and pretenders down low on the banzuke.
I really have nothing to add about M13 Kyokushuzan. I wasn't impressed by his 11-4 outing just because we've seen him do this countless times before. Shu always tanks it up high in the ranks, so he can have his way down low on the banzuke. I'm not going to hype those tactics. Kyokushuzan does have great technique when he wants to really fight, but he seems more content to dink around in an attempt to entertain the crowd with shenanigans other than good sumo. Mail that Kantosho prize money to Miyabiyama will ya?
I gotta give my props to M15 Tamakasuga. This old veteran looked great in Osaka. I saw that fiery will to win this basho that I haven't seen from this guy for 6 or 7 years. His 9-6 record was fantastic considering is age and how long he's been down. Tamakasuga stuck with his brand of oshi-zumo, and it paid off. Granted, the lower Maegashira ranks were just that--rank--so don't expect a repeat performance in May.
I'll conclude with M16 Yoshikaze, who eeked out an 8-7 record in his second basho in the division. Yoshikaze still looks very sporadic and uncomfortable in the Makuuchi ranks. He was gifted a win against Hakurozan on day 7 in what was without question the worst call of the basho. It looks to me as if this guy has yet to settle on a brand of sumo that will work for him. On one hand, I like his scrappy approach to his bouts, but you can't survive in this division on scrap alone (ask Toyozakura). He's got to find his strength and build up from there.
Let's keep it short and sweet this time. Looking ahead to May, we've got two names coming into the division that should create major excitement. You all know about Baruto, the beast from Estonia who skipped his way to a 15-0 Juryo yusho performance. Just one question for the other Juryo guys...why did everyone just walk into a Baruto uwate from the tachi-ai? NHK kept replaying Baruto's matches, and it was the same thing over and over. Yori-kiri, yori-kiri, yori-kiri. Baruto's not going to find it quite that easy in Makuuchi although you can expect this guy to be fighting the jo'i in September. Remember, Baruto comes from the Mihogaseki-beya, a stable that doesn't have any Makuuchi rikishi now, but it is a very well established stable that has produced multiple Yokozuna. Mihogaseki-oyakata is a sharp dude and has no doubt been key to Baruto's training. Baruto should enjoy Kotooshu success.
The other newcomer I want to highlight is Homasho. I've had this guy on the eye-on-sumo page for about a year and a half, and not because he's got great technique. Well, the good sumo skills help, but this guy is a good-looking dude AND he comes from Shikoroyama-beya, a stable headed by female heartthrob, Terao. Just watch, the Japanese press is going to make the connection about how Homasho is good looking just like Terao, and he'll become the target of the Japanese female fans' affections. If he can enjoy a few good early basho, I think the media will make him into a sensation similar to the way Takamisakari has been spotlighted. Homasho spent just two basho in the Juryo ranks and has the tools to steadily rise up the banzuke, so don't forget to concentrate on his sumo.
With the Natsu basho kicking off on May 7, that means we're just 3 1/2 weeks away from the next banzuke! We'll lie low here as usual in between basho and continue to post any news items we come across, but in the meantime, me and the boys are off to the roadhouse where we're gonna have ourselves a real...a good time.
2006 Haru Basho
One of the biggest headlines following Tochiazuma's yusho in January was the noticeable rise in television ratings. It's completely natural that the Japanese viewers' interest would spike when one of their own takes the championship, but we have sure enjoyed the residuals of Tochiazuma's success since then with the increase in pre-basho reports prior to this basho. It also doesn't suck that Hakuho is up for Ozeki promotion, that Asashoryu is bitter now that his yusho streak has ended, that Kaio and Chiyotaikai share a record in futility, that Roho has finally broken into the sanyaku, that Japan had a crappy showing in the winter Olympics, and on and on. We'll enter this basho more informed than we have in years thanks to the broad coverage provided by the Japanese media.
We've got to start with the rikishi on the biggest stage, and that is Ozeki Tochiazuma, who finds himself in what was an unthinkable position just two basho ago. Simon covered Tochiazuma in his pre-basho report more thoroughly than a liquored up Kitanoumi Rijicho's busy hands covered that bar waitress a year or so ago...allegedly, so I'll try and keep it short. First, the Japanese press has been slobbering all over the Yokozuna hopeful declaring him in top form. But, let's look at Tochiazuma's pre-basho practice dummies so far: Tochinonada, Tochinohana, and Kasuganishiki on March 3rd, and then Iwakiyama a few days later. Tochiazuma dominated all of these keiko sessions, but so what? He damn well better be dominating against those guys. The only rikishi of the bunch he'll face this basho is Iwakiyama, but the only other rikishi on the banzuke similar to Iwakiyama that he'll face is Miyabiyama. Perhaps Tochiazuma wants to prep himself for the only rikishi to best him in January, but I think that Tochiazuma would be better suited to practice with a multi-faceted guy like Kotomitsuki rather than someone whose ancestors were Hutts in the Star Wars movies. Kotomitsuki can show you shoves; he's a great yotsu-zumo guy; and don't look past his sly tachi-ai from time to time. I just don't understand why Tochiazuma wouldn't lend his chest, as they say, to a rikishi or two with a little more game.
I see Tochiazuma taking a very cautious approach heading into this basho, and I don't think it bodes well for him in terms of a Yokozuna run. Remember Hakuho in the same position last basho when facing Ozeki promotion? Very light workouts with no high profile rikishi. It was also the first time that Hakuho didn't practice with the Yokozuna prior to a basho. The result was a very flat performance low lighted by an 0-3 start. I don't think Tochiazuma will start out 0-3 simply because he's a savvy veteran and because the Association will give him plenty of lame ducks to feast on the first few days. But I don't like how he's practicing so conservatively prior to the biggest basho of his career. How about a little more anger...sorta like that gal up Bernie's way, Alanis Morissette? I realize that part of it is Tochiazuma's not wanting to injure himself prior to the tournament, but I don't like that he's practicing to avoid injury rather than facing a few rikishi that will prepare him for the guys he'll face the last 10 days or so. I also don't like that he's been tinkering with yotsu-zumo in his pre-basho keiko. The Ozeki's comments have been "I've got to broaden my style this basho because my opponents will remember my sumo in January." I say stick with what got you to this point. I pegged Tochiazuma's sumo in my pre-basho report for January, so if I know what style you're going to implement, I'm pretty sure your opponents know it as well. The thing is, no one could solve it in January even though they knew what was coming. Don't try and second guess what got you to this point in the first place.
Okay, I've focused on the negatives. Now, let's look at the positives. First, Tochiazuma is a veteran rikishi with Yokozuna-caliber skills. He has the strongest lower body in the division, which makes him a bitch to beat at the belt. So many guys go for the pull-down against Tochiazuma because they know they can't beat him straight up unless they dominate the tachi-ai. Second, when Tochiazuma gets on a roll, he's nearly unstoppable. Said roll has to come early, but you know the Association is going to give him lightweights for as long as possible. If he enters the final 5 days at 9-1, who does he have left? Asashoryu, three lame duck Ozeki if they can manage to make it that far, and a feisty Sekiwake or two. Look what happened to Hakuho last basho when he faced Tochiazuma, the guy on a roll. Hakuho panicked before the bout even began and went for a pull-down from the tachi-ai. Make guys think about it a bit, and you already have the mental uwate. Third, and this is NOT a positive overall, but it is a huge break that could push Tochiazuma over the top: Kotooshu is a non-factor this basho. With word that Kotooshu is all but kyujo thanks to a knee injury, no wonder Tochiazuma's fan club is sword shopping. That is a huge loss to this basho because I agree with Simon that Kotooshu was primed to pounce and contend for they yusho. When I weigh all of the aforementioned factors, I say that Tochiazuma falls short this basho. I just think the negatives outweigh the positives. Tochiazuma didn't look good at all in his previous two attempts, and I don't see anything in his routine this basho that will change that. Ask Kaio if it gets easier the more times you try and pull the promotion off. Tochiazuma's not as versatile as he was several years ago; he's avoiding rikishi prior to the basho with any game; and he'll have a tougher schedule than he faced last basho. I say he has the typical Ozeki basho we've come to expect from him with 10 or 11 wins. If we see two or more kyujo from the sanyaku on up, that's worth another win, which will make it interesting, but I don't see Tochiazuma dominating again in Osaka. He's not even in the top three of the division in my opinion. How was that for short?
A guy who IS in the top three is Sekiwake Hakuho, who like Tochiazuma, is gunning for promotion to a prestigious rank. Hakuho's pre-basho regime for this tournament is a complete turnaround from his cocky attitude heading into the same tournament last year. I love how he's been fighting a multitude of rikishi prior to the tournament starting with Mokonami, a Juryo guy who is built and fights a lot like Ama. Hakuho fought with Mokonami for three days before turning to the Makuuchi fellas. He's taken on Asashoryu in two different keiko sessions going 5-8. No other rikishi can touch that mark. He's young, he's strong, and he's the second best in the sport in my opinion. I'm not sold that he's going to secure promotion to Ozeki if the benchmark of 12 wins that I've seen reported is really true. I think Hakuho waltzes his way to 11 wins, but once you get past 11, each successive win gets exponentially harder to obtain. The positive for Hakuho is his sheer ability. That, and he's not going to face the same mental pressure that Tochiazuma will. That bout last January between Hakuho and Tochiazuma was so telling. Hakuho made a mental mistake that led to a draw. An Ozeki candidate can make that mistake and still get promoted; a Yokozuna candidate can't. Remember Kaio vs. Miyabiyama in Kyushu 2004? If Hakuho can avoid a loss to a Maegashira rikishi, he heads into senshuraku with a chance to yusho. If that happens, he posts 13 wins again. If he loses to a Maegashira guy, he goes 11-4.
So who rounds out the top three in the sport? That's Ozeki Kotooshu. Unfortunately, we're not going to see that this basho. I don't see how Kotooshu can enter the tournament in the shape he is in although according to the latest reports, he's dead set on competing. To review, he suffered a knee sprain while sparring with Kotomitsuki on March 2nd (maybe Tochiazuma knows what he's doing after all) and hasn't fought anyone since. He's done the customary shiko exercises, and dumbbell training, but on Tuesday when he attempted to perform butsukari-geiko, he couldn't do it. Regardless of what happens, he can't fight this Haru at full strength which is a damn shame because he was completely out of the spotlight, he no longer had the pressure of a first-time Ozeki on him, and he was in the perfect position to sneak up on the rest of the field. As of yesterday, I fully expected Kotooshu to withdraw from the tournament, but now the tide has swayed. We'll just have to wait and see what comes down. In my opinion, he really needs to withdraw by Friday Japan time because that's when the Association makes the pairings for the first two days. There's no sense in doling out wins early on because you're injured, so hopefully Kotooshu can make the CORRECT decision and not the manly decision. It makes me sick to see this whole injury ordeal take place because in order to maintain sumo's mini run in popularity, they have to have all the big names healthy and fighting well. If Kotooshu does decide to throw his top-knot into the ring, I can't see him picking up more than five wins total. He hasn't practiced with anyone since March 2nd, and a knee joint? We're not talking about a dislocated toe. All I ask is that Kotooshu and his stable master make the right decision and not the emotional choice.
Have I forgotten anyone here? Oh yes, Asashoryu. This has been a strange pre-basho routine for Asashoryu so far. Because so much of the focus has been on Tochiazuma, Hakuho, Kaio, and Kotooshu's injury, I have not read very many keiko reports regarding the Yokozuna. Yes, he has sparred with Hakuho twice and came away with the better record each time, but 8-5 against anyone for Asashoryu is a mental victory for the other guy. Asashoryu has also missed a handful of keiko days due to illness. It just doesn't seem as if he's in that typical groove where he struts from stable to stable kicking everyone's ass. But don't be fooled. Asashoryu's catching a cold, or "kaze" as they say in Japan, pre-basho is the norm. We've also seen other basho where he's come in supposedly out of practice and just cleaned up. The most telling stat for me is that Asashoryu has never failed to yusho twice in a row since he first captured a tournament. You better believe that the Yokozuna pride will be in full force starting from day 1. I go back to Hatsu 2004 when Kotomitsuki was being touted as Asashoryu's next rival. Hit and Mitsuki was riding an 8-1 record into day 10 when he faced Asashoryu. You couldn't watch 10 minutes of NHK's broadcast that day without them running footage of Kotomitsuki doing this or that. Asashoryu was watching on the monitors they have stashed in the dressing rooms and hallways of the Kokugikan, so he proceeded to come out and bounce Kotomitsuki off the clay via tsuri-otoshi (pictured at left) sending a message to all. I suspect that same meanstreak will be back in Haru. If Asashoryu's right arm is completely healed, Asashoryu is the favorite to win, and I say he goes 13-2. I'll take his chances of recapturing the yusho over Tochiazuma's chance to yusho twice in a row any day.
Well, let's get the remaining two Ozeki out of the way. As the Japanese press reports ad nausea, Kaio and Chiyotaikai are kadoban for a record ninth time apiece. Since I've read zero reports from Chiyotaikai's camp, and Kaio seems content to fight Makushita guys pre-basho, let me take this opportunity to point out how annoying the Japanese press is. For those of you who can read Japanese, are you getting as sick as I am by the fact that the subject in the first sentence of an article can't be written without details of where the basho is, when it starts, and the stupid record or injury held by the rikishi in the spotlight? For those of you who have know idea what I'm talking about, here's the subject of the first line of a typical Japanese article:
Ozeki Kaio, age 33 who is kadoban for a record ninth time in his career and fights from the Tomozuna-beya located in XX city in Osaka, which is the site of the Haru basho, which begins March 12 at the Osaka Prefecture Gymnasium, (verb)
Ozeki Kotooshu, age 23 who fights from the Sadogatake-beya and who injured his right knee while sparring with stable mate Kotomitsuki on March 2nd in preparation for the Haru basho held in Osaka beginning March 12 at the Osaka Prefecture Gymnasium, (verb)
The translation of these two sentences into English is as follows:
I mean reading that once is fine, but every article every day starting out like that? It pisses me off nearly as much as the judges. But back to Kaio and Chiyotaikai. Kaio is saying all the right things, and he's been in the practice dohyo nearly everyday, but I'm extremely nervous about his pre-basho routine. He's only fought sekitori once, but no results were given. Wouldn't it make sense if Kaio did really well that that fact would get hyped in the press? The good news is Kaio says he feels much better prior to this basho than he did last basho, and I believe him. That should translate into 8 wins, but don't be surprised if this is Kaio's swan song. As for Chiyotaikai, I don't think he's injured, so I expect him to pull out 9 or 10 wins dancing this way and that. This guy is a veteran who knows how to win (pull down) and can get enough Maegashira rikishi to fall for his shenanigans. With no keiko reports to go from, I won't be able to give any analysis on how Chiyotaikai will perform until I've seen him fight for two days, probably about the time I post my first basho comments. Stay tuned.
Highlighting the one Sekiwake I've missed, Kotomitsuki's only run this pre-basho is the fact that he's the one who injured Kotooshu's right knee. I may as well copy and paste comments from previous pre-basho reports for this guy: "Kotomitsuki is very erratic and will shine one week only to suck the other week. 8 Wins."
Rounding out the sanyaku, I love our lineup of Komusubi. Sitting in the East is first-timer Roho. Unfortunately, the only reports of Roho I've read are those saying he bought a white Hummer for 10 million yen (hey, the same price as Tochiazuma's sword!) and that he went on a night cruise with some fellow countrymen. No worries. Roho Pitt has nine wins in him, especially with the weak lineup of Ozeki. I expect him to battle Kotomitsuki for his Sekiwake slot. The fewer pull downs the better record for this guy. As much crap as Roho's counterpart, Miyabiyama, has taken on this website, I have nothing but praise for him the last few basho. His win over Tochiazuma last basho was shweet. Tsuppari = wins for Miyabiyama. Let's hope the Sheriff comes out with a nasty attitude and throws the biggest body in the division around via the thrusting attack. 8 wins as Miyabiyama maintains peace and order in the dohyo.
Jumping down to the Maegashira ranks, M1 Tamanoshima should be nice and pesky this basho if his right shoulder has healed. I expect him to kachi-koshi this basho if healthy. Counterpart Kokkai will be a mystery. If you hadn't heard, Kokkai's father passed away at the end of February due to a heart attack. I haven't read where Kokkai has returned to Japan, but he should still enter the tournament. I really don't think the lack of keiko is going to affect him too much. If you've ever watched keiko prior to a basho, it's almost exclusively yotsu-zumo. Kokkai's thing is definitely not fighting at the belt, so I think the emotional lift of "do it for dad" he'll bring back with him will factor out his lack of practice. I'm rooting for 8 wins from Kokkai this basho more than anything else, and I think we all are. Kick some ass bro.
How tantalizing is Ama in the M2 slot? I don't expect Ama to kachi-koshi, but it will be awesome watching this kid give the jo'i headaches to the tune of 6 wins or so. Still, don't put it past him to wrangle 8 wins with his technique. This guy practices with the best, and his showing last basho that included a win (albeit over an injured) Asashoryu has to give him confidence. The best thing about Ama at this rank is he won't be intimidated. I love the fact that the top three Maegashira rikishi are anything but pushovers. Notice how I didn't say the top four...Hokutoriki.
Aminishiki and Iwakiyama hold down the M3 fort. I like the fact that Aminishiki's ability will keep the jo'i honest, but I don't see him winning more than 5. Still, don't forget his victory over Asashoryu in September. Iwakiyama is a rikishi who I used to put on the same plane as Miyabiyama, but not so the last year. I'm afraid that Iwakiyama has peaked, but if he uses his tsuppari attack with some fire, he will score a few upsets. 7 wins.
You gotta love Futenoh in the M4 slot. If Kotooshu withdraws as I expect him to, that should pit Futenoh against all of the jo'i. Wasn't it from this same position last year in Nagoya where he made that break-out run? If completely healthy, I expect 8 or 9 wins. My only fear is that he's lost his confidence a bit these last two basho. Still, facing Futenoh for the sanyaku on up will be like facing each other. Counterpart Dejima means well, but I don't see him picking up more than two wins over rikishi ranked above him. 6 wins.
Kyokutenho comes in at M5, a rank where he could do a helluva lot of damage. If only this guy cared. Counterpart Tokitsuumi is coming off of a great basho in January where he even scored some nice wins against Kotomitsuki and Roho. I wouldn't be surprised to see him kachi-koshi again unless he's called up to duty with two or three withdrawals.
Kakizoe should kachi-koshi from this rank, but he did struggle a bit last basho form a few notches lower. It wasn't too long ago when he was the perennial M1 or M2. Still, he adds to the top-heavy banzuke this bahso. Counterpart Tokitenku should find himself back in the comfort zone of rikishi similar to his own ability.
M7 will definitely be a rank to watch. Kisenosato climbs back up to within shouting distance of the jo'i. I've read no pre-basho keiko reports, but if worst comes to worst, he has stablemate Wakanosato to spar with. This should really improve the Kid's yotsu-zumo skills. 8 wins. Kasugao is another guy who could do some damage. I don't care where he's ranked on the banzuke, he will win if he gets an uwate. I'm excited to see the Korean this high up again because I think he's got what it takes to make Komusubi one day.
M8's Kotoshogiku and Asasekiryu have both shown that they struggle when ranked too much higher than their current rank. I'd be surprised to see either of these two have a breakout basho. Status quo 8 wins apiece.
Tochinohana finds himself at M10 after being roughed up at M3 last basho. I hope he doesn't quit and find solace in the Juryo ranks again. He's still got some left in the tank. M11 Wakanosato should post at least 10 wins again from this rank. Some may have thought he'd underachieved last basho from the M16 slot, but when a rikishi comes off of a major injury, it doesn't matter how good he is. He needs to get that ring sense back. 11 wins from this former Sekiwake and Ozeki hopeful.
How about the powerhouse rikishi at M12 in Hakurozan and Tochinonada? There is no reason why these two shouldn't win 9 or 10 bouts, especially when you look at what's below them. If a banzuke is top-heavy, that means the bottom has gotta suck, and suck it does this basho. Okay, the Zakura brothers are kind of entertaining, and Yoshikaze is fighting in only his second Makuuchi basho, but you'll forgive me if I call it a day right here so I can kick my feet up and get back to my Tommy James and the Shondells records.
Here's how I see the basho playing out:
Asashoryu takes the yusho at 13-2 (his supreme dominance begins to crack ever so slightly)
Hakuho takes the jun-yusho at 12-3
Tochiazuma checks in at 11-4
Hakuho picks up a consecutive Shukunsho award on his way to the Ozeki ranks
Wakanosato picks up a Kantosho as he re-establishes himself as a sanyaku candidate
No Ginosho is awarded...the top-heavy banzuke doesn't allow it